Patrick Schwarzenegger stars as the nefarious agent provocateur Daniel, a sometimes-admirable Mephistopheles, in Daniel Isn’t Real, a film by Adam Egypt Mortimer. The role marks a notable departure from the young actor’s earlier work. With his well-known backstory that is near-impossible to escape, Schwarzenegger shifts effortlessly from episodes of uncontrollable hedonism to someone we can almost relate to in his role as Daniel.
The model, actor, and entrepreneur is much more than a dynastic member of Hollywood and America’s elite. He is someone who warrants a closer look, a more careful inspection of his abilities as both an actor and a businessman.
Although his experience in film has been relatively brief up to this point, the diversity in the characters he has portrayed shows that if he decides to further his acting career, there will be no limit to the depth and breadth of the roles he will be able to effectively execute.
Blaze Pizza, Tom Ford eyewear, and hard work all are just a part of Schwarzenegger’s everyday life. He is definitely worth watching, both on screen and off it, and who knows what commercial or creative endeavor he will venture into next.
Daniel isn’t real
Sean Weiland: So you have an upcoming movie that I had a chance to see, Daniel Isn’t Real. From what I understand, it’s your second movie with a leading role, albeit a very different character from your first, which was in Midnight Sun. Can you tell me a little bit about how this latest project came about?
Patrick Schwarzenegger: It was the classic auditioning process. I did a few rounds of auditions and actually got the role. I developed the character and the script with the creator and with SpectreVision, with Elijah Wood and his company. It’s been a pretty crazy process, from filming a small, independent film to getting it into South by Southwest. And then it got amazing reviews and went out onto the horror-film- festival circuit and then got sold to Sam Goldwyn, and is now coming out in some theaters and on demand on December 6. So it’s been a ride.
SW: So you had no idea it was going to get picked up by Sam Goldwyn? This was a whirlwind for you?
PS: Yeah, this was a very small, independent script. It’s unique and touches a lot on toxic masculinity and mental health. I thought this was pertinent to right now. That’s what drew me to it. Everything aligned for it, it did really well, and now we’re here.
SW: It seems you’re such an amicable fellow, though. Was it a bit hard to get into the role of Daniel?
PS: It was completely different from Midnight Sun and some of the other projects I’ve done. It was a totally different character, but at the same time it was one that allowed me to fully dive into someone else’s shoes. For an actor, that’s obviously more fun, and tough to do, but once I got on set…
The week before we started filming, I was in New York and I dyed my hair. I completely dyed my eyebrows, packed away all the clothes that I’d brought to New York and I got into the full wardrobe of this character. I played around with what it was like to be this character, walking around New York and just seeing what it was like being in his shoes.
This character wears a lot of purple and fishnet and leather and tight pants. All of this stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily wear. I remember going to a Starbucks one day and sitting there in a fishnet tank top that you could see my chest and nipples through. I also had on a very tight leather jacket that didn’t close all the way and these black pants. And these purple sunglasses and my hair slicked back in a dark black color. And I just went into Starbucks and analyzed how many people looked at me or gave me a strange look, how differently I was perceived. It was interesting to put myself in those shoes.
Then we also did tons of rehearsals. We did some with the script and then there were other times where the director would say, “This is the scenario, you guys can go and improv with your characters.” It was really fun. We got to have a great time with that.
SW: You felt people perceived you differently when you were dressed as Daniel?
PS: Yeah, 100%.
Getting into the role
SW: Did that make it easier? Did that help you get into the mindset of, “Hey, I can develop this persona with attitude?”
PS: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that stops anyone as an actor or as a person from doing what they want to do in life is obviously fear—of what you or other people will think of you. At first [when I was dressed up as Daniel] I was like, “Holy shit, what if someone I know recognizes me?” But then, when you’re in that outfit, no one is going to recognize you.
It’s just like you said—people did look at me because I was totally different. It allowed me to be in someone else’s shoes completely. It breaks that wall of fear, because you don’t care what other people are thinking because you know that they don’t know it’s you. You’re actually being a character and it allows you to see in another way.
“If I’m at one of my gyms and someone needs to help sweep up the floor or something like that, I don’t get worried about getting my hands dirty. I’ve cleaned tons of floors at my businesses, I’ve made pizzas, I’ve done it all. You’re not an entrepreneur if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty—I learned that early”
SW: After watching the film, I noticed that your character was very intriguing and, I would almost dare to say, at times likable. He has a unique brand of unchained hedonism and a cool, godlike manner about him, especially when he has all of the answers in certain scenes in the film. Was that something you enjoyed playing? It seemed like you had some fun with it, which I thought added to the character.
PS: Yeah, I did have fun with it, for sure. I think that the goal with this character was how do we not make him one note? How do we make him so that he’s not just this crazy asshole who makes Miles [Robbins, who plays Luke] do all these bad things? We wanted the first act to be something that brought Miles’s character in and lured him into thinking that [Daniel] was going to be doing him some good. And that plays on the idea of toxic masculinity.
Again, if you think about the moments when the audience and Miles’s character think, “Oh, he’s being a good guy,” it’s when he’s helping him with the test and cheating, when he’s helping him get women to have sex, and when he’s making him have a fun time.
And so all of these things are perceived as great things, but in reality it goes back to the idea of toxic masculinity. This guy is doing something wrong when it comes to cheating on a test. He’s cheating the system. OK, this guy’s getting belligerently drunk and having a sexual relationship with a girl when he shouldn’t be.
This guy is hurting someone else to show that he’s a macho man—all these different things that are getting praised in maybe other parts of life and in the world today. But in the movie, they’re things that are also being praised and lure the character in until he starts to realize, “Holy shit, this guy’s making me do terrible things.” I think that’s what plays on toxic masculinity.
SW: Adding to your point, I found the scenes you mentioned—where Daniel helps Luke cheat on the test, helps him get the girl, and aids him in lying to everyone solely so Luke seems more interesting—critically important. While all of those things are taking place, the audience can almost sympathize with Daniel, and say, “Wow, you know what, maybe Daniel is good for Luke.”
He comes out of his shell a little bit and Daniel appears to be helping him. But then the question we have to ask is, at what point does it go too far? How much of that type of behavior is acceptable?
Also interesting was that other characters are able to notice the presence of Daniel. Was that something that was built into the script or something that was developed during filming?
PS: It was something that was developed in the script. It’s something that we reworked and helped spice up. I wish it was spiced up even more, but I told the writer and director, Adam, that it was something I wanted to lean in on. It was the reason I was doing this script. I wasn’t just trying to make a cool indie horror. I was trying to make something that has political commentary, social commentary, things that are applicable to today’s world. That’s how you make a film more interesting and have roots.
A perfect example is a film like Get Out, which was like, one person might perceive it as just an awesome horror film and another person might think… Well, I think a majority of people today would say that movie had so much depth to it because it had historical commentary and political commentary while still being a great horror film. It had so much depth as well as aspects that made it an amazing film overall.
That aspect, we tried to really work on. At the end of the day, we couldn’t change everything or add too much because it was an independent film. It wasn’t a big-budget film. It was something that was happening quickly, and we did the best we could.
SW: Regarding your keen eye for and interest in political and social commentary, do you think that your family’s background has made you more aware of political trends, or have they always interested you on a personal level?
PS: My family’s dinner-table conversations probably aren’t the norm—they can involve current events or political events or sports, pretty much everything.[It’s important to] understand what’s happening in today’s society and to read the news once in a while. I’m versed in a lot of the social and political issues that are going on, but I’m not well versed. That’s not something you have to be to understand the film. I would say my parents have taught me a lot in that area.
SW: What inspired you to be an actor? Was it your family or was it something you were drawn to as a child?
PS: What inspired me originally was the work of my dad. I mean, my favorite activity growing up was going to the movie sets with him and watching him go in as Dad and come out four hours later as Mr. Freeze.
I would go to set and ride around Universal Studios and sleep in the trailer overnight. I stayed there for days sometimes and was obsessed with it, but I don’t think I understood the complexity of acting then, and that’s still something I’m learning each day and hope to continue to grow, but it’s something that sparked my imagination. It’s what led me to where I am today. I’ve funded other passions and aspirations and other areas that I’ve developed, but film is always an awesome and fun thing when you’re working.
SW: Do you have a favorite movie?
PS: That’s a tough question. Stand by Me has always been at the top of my charts.
SW: You mentioned you have some other passions, aside from acting and film. Would you mind elaborating on that?
PS: I started my own business that was funded last year, called Achilles Advisors, and I have been doing venture investing for six, seven, eight years now. I started my first investment, called Blaze Pizza, when I was at high school. I sold my first company when I was at middle school, but Blaze Pizza grew to be a 330-store fast-casual franchise, the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the world.
We sold a majority stake in that and I opened my own venture fund, helping to inject capital into and going on the advisory board of small businesses to help them grow in scale. There are 16 companies under the umbrella of that advisory firm.
SW: Is Patrick Schwarzenegger a passionate businessman as well?
PS: It’s something my dad taught me early on. He said, “If you want to do acting, that’s great. But you have to reverse engineer. Even when I was the biggest action star in the world, I was working six or eight months of the year. I wasn’t working on film for four or five months, or more, of the year.”
If you’re someone who’s obsessed with working and you always want to be improving, you’re going to fall into a trap, into a dark hole. When you’re starting out in film, you’re going be working maybe on one a year, maybe fewer, maybe once every 15 or 20 months.
So if you don’t have another passion that you’re working toward every day or that you enjoy, you’re going to be stuck in your day, every day, thinking, “What the hell am I doing today?” Or, “What am I going to do?” Or, “I’m so bored.” I just leaned into business because I was loving it and I had a lot of fun watching companies get built and grow.
Film is amazing when you’re working, but I worked every day on Daniel Isn’t Real for two months and then I didn’t work again on a film for six months. Those are the ups and downs of the film industry. I have a lot of friends who are actors—I won’t name names—and they’ll call me and say things like, “Why do you get up at 5AM? Why don’t you sleep in until 9AM? What do you have to get done today?”
And I’m like, I have other stuff that I want to do. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m running a business or I’m doing this other thing. Or if I don’t get up at five and work out and do my personal stuff, I can’t fit in everything I want to do today. And they’re like, “Oh wow, OK.”
“I wasn’t just trying to make a cool indie horror. I was trying to make something that has political commentary, social commentary, things that are applicable to today’s world. That’s how you make a film more interesting and have roots”
The daily grind
SW: So I guess you can’t hang out.
PS: Well, no. I love the weekend. I’m always with family and friends then. But I have a very regimented daily routine of waking up at five and going and working out and reading and doing emails and then getting into my business work, all that sort of thing. And a lot of other film people are actors.
They just hang around and wait for the next role. Some of them work more than I do, some don’t. So I suppose it’s whatever that person fancies. I’m just a big believer of if you love something and it’s getting you up in the morning and you’re wanting to be better, then just keep doing it.
SW: It sounds like you’re very independent.
PS: I have a team that runs my businesses. If I’m at one of my gyms and someone needs to help sweep up the floor or something like that, I don’t get worried about getting my hands dirty. I’ve cleaned tons of floors at my businesses, I’ve made pizzas, I’ve done it all. You’re not an entrepreneur if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty—I learned that early.
There was a good person I used to work for, Rick Caruso. He’s a multibillionaire real-estate entrepreneur here in Los Angeles. He owns The Grove, hotels, tons of outdoor shopping malls. Part of his program, when you work for him, is he has everyone work in all the different departments of his company. So you’ll work at the valet, you’ll work for security, you’ll work for the trash and cleaning crew. You’ll work at the front desk, you’ll work with the managers, you’ll come in for board meetings—you’ll do it all.
I remember one day when I was working at The Grove, maybe 10 years ago, Paris Hilton came, and I was assigned to do security at that time. It was when my dad was still governor—I can’t remember now. I had my own security—and I remember there being paparazzi shots and people were like, “Oh my God, why are you doing security?”
They pulled me into the office the next day and the people there were like, “Hey, if you don’t want to work here and you’re worried about this kind of thing, that’s fine, but this is how we do it.” And I was like, no, I get it. I respect that this is your way of having interns or people come and work here. That they learn every single aspect of the business, not just the higher levels, where you need to understand what it’s like for the other employees and where things are slacking or going well. Rick Caruso taught me that at an early age—that in business you need to know all the aspects of it.
SW: Do you stay in touch with him?
PS: Yeah. I have another company called Cubcoats—it sells little stuffed animals that turn into jackets. We actually opened a retail store at The Grove toward the end of last year. I see him all the time still— he’s probably one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country and definitely in Los Angeles. He’s someone who, if I email to ask for advice or have questions, he answers. He’s awesome.